“Elite dancers face similar physical challenges to those of elite athletes, and it's essential that they possess the physical preparedness necessary to withstand the associated stresses.”
Dr Louis Howe is the supervisor of a project that will consist of a series of studies by scientists at The University of Essex's Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences department. The group will study The Royal Ballet School's dancers, aged 16-20, to help prepare them for their future careers.
The research will complement the school's already well-established healthcare team that works to understand and optimise dancer development and training. The study aims to discover how elite sports techniques like targeted weight training can improve dancers' strength to “reduce the risk of injuries while improving performance.”
One of The Royal Ballet School's strength and conditioning coaches, Jamie Harding, is completing his PhD at the university and is leading the research team. “Ballet is unique in that it is an aesthetic art and a high-performance sport with exacting competing demands,” he said. “Dancers perform feats that are unimaginable to mere mortals and our research will make sure their bodies are up to the gruelling demands.”
Researchers will conduct five studies which will finish in early 2025, building on the school's existing programme which collects data on dancers to understand the key stages in a student's growth and development – both physical and psychological – as they balance academic work with an elite artistic education and a comprehensive supportive training programme.
The Royal Ballet School's Head of Healthcare, Karen Sheriff, said, “Research is hugely integral to us as a world-leading organisation. It helps us to answer specific performance questions, develops our practice and enhances our scientific understanding of our young dancers so that we can identify the most effective ways to support them as athletes.”
Dr Howe said, “That's where strength and conditioning support can be helpful, as it can reduce the risk of injuries while improving performance. Our research aims to find the best ways to optimise the techniques used by practitioners to achieve these goals. Ultimately, we hope our findings will help elite dancers improve their physical preparedness and reach their peak performance levels.”
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.